DO YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR BEST EVER PORTRAITS? WE’VE TEAMED UP WITH THE UK’SLEADING EXPERTS TO HELP YOU IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS. THIS MONTH, WEEN LIST THE EXPERTISE OF BRETT HARKNESS TO REVEAL THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR CHOICE OF LENS
TAKING GREAT PORTRAITS requires a multitude of skills to be mastered and our monthly guide aims to cover them all so that you’re well prepared for every possible challenge. Over the coming months, we’ll be looking in depth at different forms of lighting and more advanced techniques, but in this fourth part, we examine a key consideration you must make every time you take a shot: your choice of lens.
If you’re an experienced photographer, you probably know what lens you plan to use and it doesn’t take a genius to guess that it’s most likely a telephoto of some sort. As we’ll shortly discover, longer focal lengths are the mainstay of dedicated portrait photographers, but there is also room in the gadget bag for a wide-angle, too, especially if you have something particularly funky in mind. But there’s more to lenses than focal lengths. Your choice of lens will determine how your subject relates to their location and also how the backdrop appears in the image. Use the basic — guidelines in this month’s guide and ensure that you make the most of your portraits by shooting them with the best choice of lens.
Our Expert Guide To Portraits will run for several months and cover a broad variety of subjects, techniques and locations. Every guide will feature fantastic images and inspirational ideas to try out. We guarantee that if you follow the advice in our Expert Guide to Portraits, you will see a major improvement in your portrait photography.
Understanding lens perspective
THERE ARE TWO key areas of how a lens records the scene that have a major impact on the type of image that is recorded -angle-of-view and perspective. Most photographers quickly get to grips with angle-of-view but take a little longer to fully come to terms with how perspective can influence images. We cover both so that you’re fully briefed in the fundamentals of how lens choice plays a major part in the success of your portraits.
One of the easiest characteristics of lenses to understand is their angle-of-view. The term refers to the amount of the scene that the lens optics is able to capture and is measured in degrees (°). In general, photographers rarely mention the term angle-of-view, but refer to it indirectly when talking about focal lengths, which is far easier to understand and relate to.
The most common starting point when discussing angle-of-view is to refer to the 50mm standard lens, which gives a similar coverage to the human eye when used with full-frame sensors (with APS-C, the equivalent focal length is around 30mm).
A lens that gives a greater angle-of-view, in other words includes more of the scene than you can see at any time with your own eyes, is referred to as a wide-angle. The shorter the focal length (ie the lower the number), the greater the angle-of-view and the more of the scene that can be included. Anything wider than 24mm (or 17mm in APS-C)is classed as being an ultra wide-angle lens.
Telephoto is the term used to describe lenses that have a narrower angle-of-view than a 50mm, hence the term telephoto zoom — or telezoom — used for lenses like the 55-200mm and 70-200mm. Because the angle-of-view is tighter, the subject is magnified and appears closer than it really is. The longer the focal length (higher the number), the narrower the angle-of-view and less of the scene that can be included.
Realising how coverage of a scene varies according to the focal length, along with other lens characteristics such as perspective and distortion, is important for portrait photographers, because it allows you to visualise a subject within its scene and determine which focal length is best to get the result you want. For instance, if you want the subject to stand out against a wide panorama, using a wide-angle with the subject relatively close will work. But if you want the subject in front of an isolated area of the backdrop, a telephoto setting is more appropriate. Practise with different focal lengths and you’ll soon build up a clear understanding for how angle-of-view plays a major part in image composition.